A self-balancing scooter (also hoverboard, self-balancing board, swegway) is a self-balancing personal transporter consisting of two motorized wheels connected to a pair of articulated pads on which the rider places their feet. The rider controls the speed by leaning forwards or backwards, and direction of travel by twisting the pads.
Invented in its current form in early 2013, the device is the subject of complex patent disputes. Volume manufacture started in China in 2014 and early units were prone to catch fire due to an overheating battery which resulted in product recalls in 2016, including over 500,000 units sold in the United States by eight manufacturers.
The devices' increasing popularity in Western countries has been attributed, initially, to endorsement by the wide array of celebrities (including Justin Bieber, Jamie Foxx, Kendall Jenner, Chris Brown, Soulja Boy and Wiz Khalifa). The founders of the American company PhunkeeTree encountered the board at the Hong Kong Electronics Show in 2014 and became involved in its distribution shortly thereafter.
By June 2015, the board was being made by several manufacturers, mainly in the Shenzhen region of China. In January 2015 through Inventist, he announced his intention to pursue litigation In April 2015, Ninebot, a significant manufacturer of devices acquired Segway Inc. (which separately asserted that it holds patents for self-balancing scooters.) in order to resolve the dispute. In May Chen voiced his frustrations regarding patent rights in China. In August 2015, Mark Cuban announced plans to purchase the Hovertrax patents from Chen. Many of the units provided in the first year of manufacture were defective and likely to catch fire, resulting in a major product recall from multiple manufacturers during 2016 (more details below).
In June 2016 the U.S. International Trade Commission issued an injunction for patent infringement against UPTECH, U.P. Technology, U.P. Robotics, FreeGo China, EcoBoomer, and Roboscooters. Robstep, INMOTION, Tech in the City, FreeGo settled with Segway.
Etymology of "hoverboard"
The use of the term "hoverboard" to describe these devices, despite the fact that they do not hover, has led to considerable discussion in the media.
The first use of the term for can be traced back to a 1967 science fiction novel by M. K. Joseph and subsequently popularized in the 1989 film, Back to the Future Part II where Marty McFly uses one after traveling to 2015. While the first trademarked use of hoverboard was registered in 1996 as a collecting and trading game, its first use as a commercial name representing a wheeled scooter was in 1999, and Guinness World Records lists a farthest hoverboard flight entry. In September 2015 the Oxford English Dictionary stated in their view the term had not been in use in the context for long enough for inclusion and that for the time being they would restrict their description to boards that Marty McFly would recognize. The term "self-balancing electric scooter" remains popular.
Design and operation
The device has three 6.5 inches (170 mm), 8 inches (200 mm), 10 inches (250 mm) diameter wheel variants connected to a self-balancing control mechanism using built-in gyroscopic and a sensor pad. By tilting the pad the rider can control the speed and direction of travel achieving speeds from 6 to 15 miles per hour (9.7 to 24 km/h) with a range of up to 15 miles (24 km) dependent on model, terrain, rider weight and other factors.
As with most wheeled vehicles where the rider is exposed, Consumer Reports has recommended that users wear appropriate safety gear while using them.
In 2019, hoverboards now feature a self balancing mode, in which the motors automatically engage the gyroscope in the opposite direction. This way, when the rider leans forward or backward the board is always attempting to level itself, making it easier to ride than its 2016 predecessors.
Issues and incidents
There were many instances of units catching fire, with claims that they were responsible for numerous residential fires between late 2015 into 2016. In the United Kingdom, authorities expressed concerns with the boards, regarding possible faulty wiring. Many airlines banned the transportation of the boards, both as stored or carry-on luggage.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched an investigation into the safety of the device in late 2015 and determined that the lithium-ion battery packs in the self-balancing scooters/hoverboards could overheat and posed a risk of catching fire or exploding, and that defects had led to 60 fires in over 20 states. In July 2016 the commission ordered the recall of over 500,000 units from eight manufacturers. The Swagway model X1 constituted the majority of the recalled "hoverboards," at 267,000 units.
In January 2016 the Philippines, the Departments of Health and Trade and Industry issued a joint advisory cautioning the public against buying them, due to reports of injuries and "potential electrocution connected with its usage". The advisory also stated “as a precautionary measure, the DOH and DTI-Consumer Protection Group therefore advise parents against buying hoverboards for children under 14 years of age.”
In May 2016, the miniPRO produced by Segway Inc. received UL certification, as did a company in Shenzhen, China. In June 2016, after safety improvements in design, the UL-approved Swagtron was launched in the United States.
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The word hoverboard has recently seen a dramatic surge in use, as a result of it being widely used to describe a kind of scooter, one which has two wheels attached to a small platform and is operated in a hands-free fashion. That it does not hover seems not to bother people as much as the fact that the devices are, at least in this early state of development, rather prone to catching on fire. [...] Although the word hoverboard did not enjoy widespread use until after this cinematic exposure, it did exist before this time. In 1986 it appeared in an issue of Texas Monthly magazine, in Stephan Harrington’s imagining of what Texas might look like in the year 2036 [...] But the earliest currently known use of the word, by a long shot, comes from a 1967 book by M. K. Joseph, The Hole in the Zero. This novel, subtitled A Story of the Future, falls into the genre of what might be called speculative science-fiction. [...] We should not be so surprised that the wheeled variety now so seemingly ubiquitous should have been granted its slightly imprecise name; when you come down to it, hoverboard is probably a catchier name than rollerboard and certainly preferable to fireboard.
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But what is a real hoverboard? The prototypes unveiled by Lexus and ArxPax recently clearly satisfy the most important criteria for Back to the Future fans: they hover. Both rely on the repelling power of intense magnetic fields—generated by superconducting magnets cooled by liquid nitrogen—acting on a special magnetized track. So neither holds out the possibility that we’ll all be zooming around towns and cities on them anytime soon. On the other hand, the boards ridden by rapper Wiz Khalifa at Los Angeles airport recently (ridden, that is, until police wrestled him to the ground), and by a pilgrim performing the tawaf in Mecca are hoverboards in name only: the word is currently registered as a trademark in the US and the UK by manufacturers of a miniature, Segway-style, two-wheeled vehicle which stays firmly on the ground. Whether these devices take off (while not actually taking off) remains to be seen; certainly, they haven’t been round long enough to be included in the new OED entry, which restricts itself to boards that Marty McFly would recognize
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